A full blue moon illuminates kekri, Halloween and All Saints’ Day in Finland

The kekri celebrations were popular in the Finnish countryside and persisted as a separate tradition into the early years of the 20th century.

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Full moon through tree branches / Credit: iStock

If you look to the skies above Finland on Saturday evening you’ll see a full moon – known as a blue moon because it’s the second full moon within a calendar month.

This year it lights up traditional All Saints Day commemorations, the growing imported Halloween phenomenon, and an old Finnish tradition that’s making a small, tentative, comeback: kekri.

Around this time of year a number of pagan and religious traditions come together, some of which have become intertwined over the years.

In many folklore cultures 31st October marks the time when the veil between the world of the living and dead is at its thinnest, and ghouls, goblins, spooks and spirits can cross from that realm into our own – on All Hallows Eve or Halloween.

All Saints’ Day in Finland is a religious event centred around remembering people who have passed away, often by lighting candles at their graves. In other parts of Europe a similar commemoration All Souls’ Day is held around the same date; while in Mexico the date is celebrated as Day of the Dead.

But if you travel back a hundred years ago especially in the Finnish countryside, there was still a second, distinct celebration called kekri that sounds a lot like an early form of the imported trick-or-treat Halloween activities that some people now enjoy.

“At the beginning of the 20th century they were still celebrating kekri in the provinces” explains Juha Nirkko, an expert from the Finnish Literature Society who has studied old texts about folklore traditions.

“In the east and northeast it used to be even more important than Christmas but with urbanisation it has been forgotten, and Christmas became stronger” he tells News Now Finland.

In the past, kekri didn’t have a fixed date, instead it marked the end of harvest period and was celebrated by eating and drinking well.

And some early (and more sinister!) trick-or-treat traditions can also be seen in rural Finland at the height of kekri’s popularity, with villagers dressing up as a kekri bogeyman, wearing a coat turned inside-out.

“Young men were going door-to-door or house-to-house and said ‘something good for kekri, or the oven!’ meaning we will break the oven in your house if you don’t give us something good to eat or drink” says Nirkko.

By the start of the 19th century the date for kekri’s harvest celebrations had solidified around the same time as All Saints’ Day – but it was still a distinct event with bonfires and slaughtering of fattened sheep to feast on.

“Even when you didn’t have so much, you still had to do this party” says the Finnish Literature Society’s Juha Nirkko.

There have been some attempts to revive kekri traditions recently, with bonfires in Tampere and Kajaani. This year in Helsinki kekri is being celebrated with a light show on Suomenlinna, and restaurants serving harvest season dishes.

“Kekri is very similar to Halloween” says Nirkko.

“And now Finland has received this Halloween like it is something new, or something foreign, but it is not.”

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